Though rain threatened to dampen the first day of Head in the Clouds New York Music & Arts Festival, it was a great start that left attendees even more excited for what was to come. The clouds finally cleared for Day 2 and the temperature was a balmy 70 degrees and sunny. Whether that was a result of the climate or the artists that brought the heat to Forest Hills Stadium is up for debate. The day’s lineup featured Wolftyla, LØREN, Dabin, XG, DPR LIVE, and DPR IAN, all of whom are either involved in the Korean music industry or draw inspiration from K-Pop in their work. Their presence at Head in the Clouds New York was an apt exhibition of the industry’s influence across the globe and on a variety of genres.
Kicking off the day’s lineup was Korean-American musician and influencer Wolftyla on the Double Happiness stage. Wolftyla, also known as Wolf, has cited K-Pop’s influence on her music, collaborated with Jay Park, and contributed her voice to League of Legends’ virtual K-Pop girl group K/DA. She started her set by playfully acknowledging her Vine roots by playing the hook of the infamous “butt naked nasty or naw” video that shot her to internet fame in 2014. Now a full-fledged RIAA Gold-certified singer-songwriter, Wolftyla demonstrated her mastery as a vocalist with a mashup of the sultry track “Close” and the uptempo R&B song “Keep You Close.”
Wolf slowed the mood down with “Happy Home,” which she dedicated to the couples in attendance. She also performed “All Tinted,” a song that V of BTS shouted out in a 2019 Paper magazine interview. To close out her set, she performed her upcoming pop-soul single “Kiss and Tell” live for the first time, which left attendees excited for its official release on June 1.
Following his U.S. festival debuts at Coachella and SXSW’s Tiger Den earlier this year, indie alt-rocker LØREN opened the 88rising main stage. Well-known in the Korean music industry for his songwriting work with Blackpink, Head in the Clouds New York gave LØREN a platform to share his own grungy, punk-rock music style. He and his band started off by warming up the eager crowd with his post-punk revival tracks, “ALL MY FRIENDS ARE TURNING BLUE” and “Temporary.”
“I can’t hear you guys through this thing,” LØREN said, referring to his in-ear. “But if you guys could scream louder, that would be great.” The audience didn’t let him down for the rest of the performance, and also jokingly chanted for LØREN to take his shirt off, to which he teased that maybe he’d do so later in his set.
LØREN kept the stadium rocking out with “folks” and “Panic,” two grungier and angstier songs from his latest EP, Put Up a Fight. He then played one unreleased song for the audience, and though he didn’t reveal the name, he shared that it would be appearing on his second album. Finally, he closed his set with a gritty cover of “Freaks” by Surf Curse that had fans dancing and bobbing along. He didn’t end up taking his shirt off, but the performance was a hit. LØREN’s band members were equally popular with the crowd – fans later asked for bassist Mikey’s handle on LØREN’s post-Head in the Clouds Instagram post, which he happily supplied in the comments.
Taking the stage next was Korean-Canadian DJ and producer Dabin, in his second appearance at Head in the Clouds after performing at the Los Angeles festival last year. He got the audience jumping with an EDM set that included a remix of “Tokyo Drift” by Teriyaki Boyz and the Far East Movement’s party anthem “Like a G6 (feat. Dev & The Cataracs).” Dabin pulled out his electric guitar to complement “Holding On (feat. Lowell)” which the crowd went crazy for. He also performed his official remix of “Die For You,” the theme song of 2021 Valorant Champions, which was a hit with gamers and non-gamers alike. The video game and anime-inspired visuals (at one point scenes from Demon Slayer played in the background), stage lighting effects, and pyrotechnics also put the audience in a party mood throughout.
Dabin also had a few unreleased treats in store for the K-Pop fans in the audience. He debuted a remix of XG’s “Shooting Star” which had festival-goers jumping and singing along. It was a fun moment, especially for fans who were anticipating XG’s set on the same stage right after Dabin. Dabin’s remix of the NewJeans’ viral hit “Ditto” was equally popular with the audience, to which the crowd sang along at the top of their lungs. During the track, Dabin also threw Ditto Pokémon plushies into the crowd for lucky fans – a fun play on the song’s title.
He closed out his stunning set with the emotional fan-favorite songs “First Time (feat. Dylan Matthew),” his collaboration with Seven Lions and SLANDER, and “Alive.” He dedicated “Alive” to listeners who were going through tough times and remarked that he hoped it could be a reminder that things get better. The message hit home for attendees, with many tearing up as the song played. Before leaving the stage, Dabin expressed his appreciation for Head in the Clouds and 88rising for being a platform for Asian artists and added, “We have so much to prove; we have so much to bring to the table.” The impact of his message was clear as audience members cheered and even cried at the sentiment.
Next up on the 88rising main stage was the hotly-anticipated Japanese global girl group XG (shorthand for “Xtraordinary Girls”), who were performing in the U.S. for the first time ever at Head in the Clouds New York. They have seen a meteoric rise to international fame since debuting in October 2022 with stars like Jackson Wang and Ciara even performing a snippet of their remix of the group’s hit song “LEFT RIGHT” at Coachella.
Attendees packed Forest Hills Stadium in what was one of the festival’s biggest turnouts of the weekend for XG, comprised of members Jurin, Chisa, Hinata, Juria, Cocona, Maya, and Harvey. After a brief hype-up VCR introducing each of the members, XG entered the stage clad in coordinating bejeweled black-tie suits and launched into the sassy, catchy B-sides, “Tippy Toes” and “Mascara.” The fireworks set off during the songs lit up both the stage and the audience’s energy.
“We’ve been dreaming about this day for a very long time and we can’t believe it’s finally here,” said Maya to ear-splitting screams. “Thank you so much for playing a huge part in fulfilling our dreams for us.”
After greeting fans, called Alphaz, and festival-goers, the girls then went backstage to change. Another VCR introducing XG’s youth empowerment mission played featuring clips from XG’s recent interviews and their music videos. After the brief intermission, Harvey and Maya returned to the stage to perform their rap unit cover of “Two Tens” by Cordae, featuring original lyrics penned by the duo. Jurin and Cocona, XG’s other rap duo, followed and performed a cover of N.O.R.E.’s 2002 hit, “I Came To Party.” Like Harvey and Maya’s cover prior, Jurin and Cocona’s performance also contained original lyrics. Chisa, Juria, and Hinata brought summer to the stage next with a cover of “Peaches” by Justin Bieber. The song was a chill-hop, lo-fi rearrangement that allowed each girl’s airy yet soulful vocals and harmony as a unit to shine onstage.
XG then returned as a unit to perform their most highly-awaited songs of the night. The audience erupted in screams and dozens of arms holding up phones shot into the air as the opening notes of the 90s R&B-inspired earworm “LEFT RIGHT” began to play. The crowd shouted along to the lyrics, and “Let me take you to the other side, XG we certified!” echoed throughout the stadium.
Maya spoke on behalf of the group in brief remarks before their finale. “This is our last song and it is definitely a special one, so we hope you enjoy it. Thank you so much for having us, HITC New York, and thank you all so much!”
The girls then launched into a sparkling performance of “Shooting Star,” and were almost drowned out by the audience singing the opening line: “Everything I do, I do it A1 – FLAWLESS!” Overall, XG’s set received an overwhelmingly warm response, demonstrated by the roaring cheers as they took a final bow before leaving the stage.
DPR LIVE & DPR IAN
As sundown approached, fans packed Forest Hills Stadium to the brim in anticipation for DPR LIVE and DPR IAN to take the stage as Sunday’s first headliners. DPR ARTIC was behind the DJ booth to drop the beat and set the vibe for DPR LIVE to hit the stage with the explosive bass-heavy track “LEGACY.” Like XG before him, the screams from the crowd during the intro were deafening – the cheers could be heard all the way from the outer concourse and almost interfered with Yeek’s performance at the Double Happiness stage right outside the stadium.
With the audience now ready for a hype set, DPR LIVE continued into “OUT OF CONTROL,” a fun, melodic hip-hop song that got the crowd jumping. He kept the playful mood going with “Laputa,” to which fans waved their hands and sang along without missing a beat.
When the song ended, cheers once again erupted from the audience. “Wow, what a welcoming crowd, tonight’s gonna be a fun night. Honestly, these are the moments I live for so I appreciate the warm welcome,” DPR LIVE remarked at the reception as he introduced himself. He was met with more cheers and a round of barking, to which he laughed.
DPR LIVE flirtatiously teased the next song by pointing out his stage outfit. “I don’t usually wear pink, but when I know I’m gonna meet a beautiful woman, I do,” he said cheekily before treating the audience with his sultry vocals on “KISS ME.” Surrounded by fog effects, DPR LIVE then jumped into the fan-favorite romantic song “Jasmine.” During the chorus, DPR ARTIC stopped the music so that the thundering sound of the audience singing along could be heard acapella.
“Wow, this is insane. Not gonna lie, I’ve been to plenty of shows, we’ve done plenty of world tours, but this – this energy tonight…I would definitely say it’s top three,” DPR LIVE said as he took a water break. “Every look in y’all’s faces looks so positive.”
Up next on the setlist was “Text Me,” to which DPR LIVE told the crowd, “Y’all better sing this one!” The attendees definitely didn’t disappoint, singing and jumping along with the song’s groove. He then transitioned into “Hula Hoops (feat. Beenzino and Hwasa),” which was the perfect soundtrack to the day’s beautiful weather. To close out the solo portion of the set, DPR LIVE performed the upbeat summer bop “Martini Blue.”
“If it were up to me I’d play my songs over, and over, and over again. But we have a certain time limit, and my best friend is waiting backstage,” DPR LIVE commented, teasing DPR IAN’s upcoming set. “Before I go, I wanna do a few songs with my bro.”
A full band joined DPR ARTIC on stage, and the audience chanted IAN’s name over and over in anticipation. Finally, he appeared after a brief but epic instrumental overture and joined DPR LIVE for a groovy rendition of “No Blueberries (feat. CL)” that got the crowd bouncing. For DPR LIVE’s last song of the night, he and DPR IAN performed “BOOM,” a genre-bending track that’s both sexy, cinematic, and introspective in its storytelling – a perfect testament to DPR’s style. The song was accentuated by LIVE and IAN’s gorgeous harmonies and well-timed bright sparkler effects for every “She goes boom” in the final chorus.
The bubbly, colorful tone of DPR LIVE’s portion of the evening shifted to a darker, more intense one as DPR IAN began his solo set with “So Beautiful.” The song showcased both his powerful belts and airy falsettos and the crowd cheered in awe. DPR IAN’s next track, “Dope Lovers,” similarly highlighted his vocal range with jaw-dropping runs.
“It’s my second time performing at Head in the Clouds and I must say, it’s such a special moment,” DPR IAN said after he took a moment to introduce himself formally. “Get yourselves strapped in, there’s still more to come.”
He and the band then launched right into “Calico.” The charismatic performance featured a killer solo from DPR IAN’s guitarist, and to the delight of the crowd, IAN replaced his heavy coat with his bass to join in. Now fully shirtless, DPR IAN then transitioned into “Scaredy Cat,” throwing in some hip swings and twirls reminiscent of the rock and roll stars of days past. The audience gladly sang and vibed along with the angsty fan-favorite song.
Sadly, it was time for the last part of DPR IAN’s set, but he had a few words to share with DREAMers (DPR fans) before he continued on. “Every single moment that I begin to doubt or question myself, I just come to this and everything seems okay,” he said. “It’s okay to not be okay sometimes, you know? But everything gets better, and even if it doesn’t, that’s just life.”
He then kicked off “Nerves,” which he described as a “song about heartbreak…kind of.” DPR IAN encouraged everyone to put their hands up as he and the band crescendoed into a grand performance of the final chorus surrounded by fire and sparks being shot out from the stage. Despite the sun not having fully set yet, the stadium was glowing with the lights from fans who waved their phones along with the song.
DPR IAN’s final song was the hotly-anticipated “Ballroom Extravaganza.” Prior to jumping in, he noted that he chose this as the concluding track as a dedication to DREAMers. The stadium was alive with fans that danced, jumped, and shouted along to the symphonic emo anthem. Spectacular fireworks and a grand musical fanfare from the band delivered the perfect epilogue to the set.
The night’s festivities didn’t end with DPR. As attendees began to file out of the stadium after an emotional, heart-wrenching set by NIKI, 88rising co-founder Sean Miyashiro ran onto the stage to introduce a special surprise finale.
“Don’t fucking leave!” he yelled out, which effectively stalled the crowd and sent them running back. “After eight years of doing what we do for you guys, one of my proudest moments was seeing you guys in the fucking rain yesterday with that energy. Yo honestly, New York City is such a big part of why 88rising exists. We started in a little office with like, five people. It was really hard, and now we’re here, and we can’t thank you enough!”
Festival-goers began to chant “88!” and “88! Rising!” until finally, Spence Lee and MaSiWei ran onto the stage to hype up the crowd with a rendition of Masiwei’s collective Higher Brothers and Phum Viphurit’s song “Lover Boy 88.” 88rising’s golden boys Rich Brian and Warren Hue then jumped in with “Getcho Mans” as the photo backdrop displayed moments from 88rising’s history over the years.
J-Pop girl group Atarashii Gakko! then joined the guys on stage to dance along, and Thai rapper MILLI (who broke onto the global scene in 2021 with “MIRROR MIRROR,” her collaboration with Changbin of Stray Kids) came out shortly after to spit a few verses of her own. For the grand finale, LØREN and his band gathered with the rest of the 88rising family onstage for “Midsummer Madness,” one of 88rising’s most recognizable songs.
The lyrics, “Fuck the rules” rang out through Forest Hills Stadium as 88rising and the entire venue sang along. The words “ALWAYS RISING” were emblazoned on the stage’s LCD backdrop, and the song and the visuals were a fitting end to a weekend celebrating Asian excellence.
Though Head in the Clouds New York has ended and Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month is coming to a close, 88rising’s mission to bring Asian talent to the forefront continues. Head in the Clouds will return to Los Angeles in August, where fans can again experience a dreamy festival of diverse music and culture. In the meantime, New York City will eagerly await the festival’s East Coast return.
Stay tuned for our exclusive Head in the Clouds New York interview with Dabin!
Written by: Aleisha F. and Sarah P.